Housing association suspends peer over Hamas “murderers” comment

A peer who left the Labour Party over its handling of antisemitism allegations has been suspended as chairman of a housing organisation after criticising the UN over Hamas terror activities in Gaza.

A peer who left the Labour Party over its handling of antisemitism allegations has been suspended as chairman of a housing organisation after criticising the UN over Hamas terror activities in Gaza, the Times reports.

On Friday, Midland Heart said it had suspended Lord Austin and arranged a meeting “to discuss his removal from the board” after the peer ridiculed a UN body’s claim to have been unaware that Hamas was operating underneath its Gaza headquarters.

Last week, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it had discovered a tunnel shaft near a school by the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) main headquarters, which led to an “underground terrorist tunnel”, prompting UNRWA to deny any knowledge of the matter.

The news follows Israel’s previous claim that 12 employees of UNRWA participated in Hamas’s October 7th terrorist attack on the country’s southern Kibbutzim, and that its staff have ties to Islamist militants.

When UNRWA responded to the IDF’s discovery by denying any knowledge of the matter, Lord Austin posted on X: “Everybody, better safe than sorry: before you go to bed, nip down and check you haven’t inadvertently got a death cult of Islamist murderers and rapists running their operations downstairs. It’s easily done.”

In response, some left-wing individuals and groups accused the peer of Islamophobia, citing his use of the word “Islamist” – although according to government guidance, the word “should not be interpreted as a reference to individuals who follow the religion of Islam”.

However, the housing association’s decision to suspend Lord Austin is understood by the Telegraph to have been prompted by a campaign against Lord Austin by Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND)

In February 2018, Sir Mark Rowley, the outgoing Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and former head of Counter-Terrorism Command, described MEND as “seeking to undermine the state’s considerable efforts to tackle all hate crime”.

Last year, an official review of the Government’s counter-extremism programme said the group had “a well-established track record of working alongside extremists and campaigning against Prevent [the government’s programme for protecting vulnerable people from radicalisation]”.

MEND accused Lord Austin of “Islamophobia” and said his post “was tweeted with no context and could plausibly be seen to be talking about some Muslims in Britain. Lord Austin’s deletion of the tweet clearly signifies he can see how insulting it was.”

An alternative explanation for the deletion of the post is that Lord Austin has been on the receiving end of dozens of abusive and in some cases threatening messages from individuals on X since the MEND campaign began.

Speaking to the Telegraph about his cancellation, Lord Austin said: “The word ‘Islamists’ is very clearly a reference not to Muslim people but to extremists. I have said and written repeatedly that the vast majority of Muslims are just as appalled by racism and extremism as anyone else.

“I am really shocked and disappointed that this has happened as a result of politically motivated bullies orchestrating a malicious campaign on social media to smear me by deliberately misinterpreting my comments and trying to undermine a lifetime’s work fighting racism,” he added.

Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, has said he is seeking an “urgent meeting and explanation” from Midland Heart, which provides affordable homes across the Midlands and receives millions of pounds in public funding.

Lord Austin, 58, who was adopted and raised by a Holocaust survivor, served as Labour MP for Dudley North before resigning over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the party’s antisemitism crisis in 2019. He was later made a life peer by Boris Johnson and sits as a non-affiliated member.